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Creat Nurs. Savett LA 1.

Author information 1 University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. Abstract Unless we--in our professional and nonprofessional roles--learn the importance and practice of deliberate silence, engaged listening, and restrained response, we will miss the opportunity to provide our presence and comfort to those about whom we care.

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Supplemental Content. Now the fact that those others could have spoken up—and the multiple possible reasons why they did not—makes the situation inherently more ambiguous and qualitatively different. This opens up a window for perceivers to harness silence in favor of their own viewpoint—even in the face of overt disagreement with the speakers, a context where the preponderance of information known would actually suggest the opposite.

Earlier, we hypothesized that the multiple reasons that can plausibly underlie silence create a situation where the actual reason for any specific silence in any specific conversation is ambiguous, which in turn makes silence particularly amenable to interpretation and projection processes. In contrast, the unknown opinions of people outside the conversation—while equally unknown—do not have the same underlying possible reasons.

Thus, there is no basis and no reason for speculating about such things in that context. We predicted that this would leave unknown opinions outside the conversation less amenable to projection and more likely to be construed in a uniform way. Finally, if the ambiguity of reasons for silence drives the SAM effect, then judgments of silence should operate similarly to other ambiguous constructs studied in social cognition—there should be a heightened level of excitation of the competing constructs e. Then, when something like the self relevance of one of the reasons further increases the availability of one of those constructs over the others in the mind of the perceiver, an assimilation effect should occur, leading the matching construct i.

Silence condition participants read: Imagine you and four other people recently saw a movie. Later you ran into them and had a conversation about it. Those in the not present condition read the same first sentence above followed by: …Later you ran into two of them and had a conversation about it. The comments made in the conversation are shown below. All participants then saw conversation diagrams similar to Study 1 with anonymous icons representing the speakers and nonspeakers where relevant. What kinds of things were you thinking about that led you to make that estimate?

Please use as much detail as possible. The second author read the explanations and determined that five categories were sufficiently large to produce meaningful categorization: a agreement with or extrapolation from the speakers; b disagreement with the speakers; c an explanation referencing the personality traits of those with unknown opinions e.

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Two RAs, blind to hypotheses, categorized the responses as a measure of explanation diversity. Finally, judges coded each explanation into one of 12 more specific categories within those themes see the Appendix for a description of the coding protocols. Twelve percent of the explanations were uncodeable due to either lack of or uninterpretable response.

Disturbed "The Sound Of Silence" 03/28/16

Replicating Study 1, participants made different estimates of the unknown opinions depending on whether they were unknown due to silence within the conversation versus not being present in the conversation. In contrast and also as predicted, estimates from silence were markedly different. When observers disagreed with the speakers and their viewpoint was thus outnumbered in the group , they inferred that those not present would feel closer to the majority viewpoint than to their own minority position.

Examples of psychological inferences. It's safe to assume the other two did not like it as well.

Sound of Silence

Results from Study 2 are consistent with the ambiguity prediction. This greater complexity sets up a context that allows people to see in the identical nonbehavior evidence that is consistent with their own reasons for silence and thus their own view. Unknown opinions outside the conversation , since they lack the same underlying reasons, lead perceivers to operate instead in terms of the actual evidence in front of them—the distribution of known opinions—when drawing their estimates.

While Study 2 suggests that the multiple possible reasons for silence makes it more ambiguous and thus more amenable to projection than unknown opinions outside the conversation, it remains open what causes the self to project his or her opinion onto silence in the first place. Study 3 examines these questions. Regarding the reason for projection, Study 3 distinguishes between two possibilities. Past work shows, for instance, that people often see their own reactions to stimuli as valid and based on the stimuli itself—i.

Importantly, because any effect of these variables should only occur when the stimulus is ambiguous and not when it is not, we predicted that any effects would be limited to the silence condition and would not occur when estimating opinions outside the conversation, where the reasons themselves, and thus the ambiguity of which one applies, is not relevant. Does the opinion projection occur directly from the self to the nonspeakers? Or is it instead mediated by the selective recruitment of a reason for the silence? To assess this, we examined a moderated mediation model.

We further expected that this postulated sequence would be significant in the silence condition where the reason for the unknown opinions is ambiguous , but not in the not present condition where the reasons are not applicable , a moderated mediation pattern. For instance, in the conditions where the self agrees with the speakers, interpreting the unknown opinions as agreement with the speakers e.

We then transformed the opinion estimation DV average of how the two unknowns feel such that higher scores signified agreement with the self's opinion. Thus, in the conditions where the self liked the water, we retained the raw data, since larger numbers naturally indicated liking for the water. Replicating Studies 1—2, participants made different estimates of how the people with unknown opinions felt about the product depending on whether those unknowns had been present and silent in the conversation versus not present to begin with.


When observers disagreed with the speakers and their opinion was thus outnumbered in the group they predicted those outside the conversation would side with the majority rather than the self's minority view. A significant indirect effect would provide support for the former case, whereas an insignificant indirect effect would provide support for the latter.

Study 3 provides additional insight into the psychological process underlying people's estimates of silence in conversations.

Rather than directly projecting their opinion onto silence, results suggest that participants first interpret the reason others are silent in a group in line with a reason that aligns with their own opinion e. A model reversing the order of this process does not fit well, reducing the plausibility of the direct projection process. In contrast, this same sequence did not transpire when people estimated opinions outside the conversation, presumably because the reasons are not relevant in that context.

While past work has examined some of the reasons why people themselves may remain silent in groups, far less attention has focused on people's perception of silence in others. In opening up this question, the current studies suggest that the absence of word of mouth can have as much effect on people's own opinions as the presence of WOM and underscore the importance of understanding people's inferences about the social dynamics of WOM settings. Even when they are silent, group members can still wield social influence. In examining people's inferences about silence, the current studies distinguished between two types of unknown opinions that are of importance in everyday consumer contexts—those belonging to people who are outside of the conversational context, as examined in past work on topics like the FCE—and those belonging to people who are inside the conversation, as examined in the current studies in the context of silence.

Results from three studies revealed that people's estimates of the two types of unknown opinions are markedly different, with perceivers relying more on accessibility and the number of opinions known when predicting how those not present feel about a product, but being pulled more in the direction of the self's opinion—even when it is in the minority in the group—when estimating unknown opinions inside the conversation instead.

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Indeed, the omnipresence of online forums for social interaction suggests that the need for understanding WOM in groups is, if anything, increasing. By investigating how people perceive the absence of WOM as it arises in response to some of the social dynamics that occur inside groups, the current studies open up a new area for investigation and add complexity to our current theoretical understanding of WOM. The current research also contributes to research on social influence e. That is, it has generally focused either on how norms that are clear in a given context affect behavior e.

This past work has yielded many important insights. At the same time, however, investigators since the time of Gordon Allport have noticed an irony—while people are motivated to conform to social norms, they are also notoriously bad at forming accurate impressions of collective sentiment to begin with, at least in part because we almost never have full access to the opinions of all the members of a group. The current work also highlights the complexity of decoding silence, given the diverse range of motives for silence in groups.

Past work points to a range of reasons why group members might remain silent in a conversation. Finally, the current studies also contribute to a growing area of research in social cognition showing that the process of projection is often more complex than it appears on the surface, even when estimating the same object e. The current studies reveal a similar complexity. Rather than a simple and direct projection of one's opinion onto the unknown opinions which should have transpired in the outside the conversation condition too , the projection onto silence was only possible when the ambiguity of reasons made it possible i.

While the current studies have opened up the question of how people interpret the absence of WOM in groups, many directions for future research remain. A recent study from our laboratory suggests that taking on a speaker role, at least under some conditions, can attenuate the SAM effect, perhaps because the act of speaking blocks the projection of reasons for silence onto others. Further research should explore this question in more detail.

Other important questions for future research include examining how silence is integrated into overall evaluations, how group composition e. In addition, while the current studies use hypothetical scenarios and manipulated opinions for experimental control, future research should replicate these findings in real conversations for external validity.

Finally, looking more deeply into why the SAM effect occurs is also of interest: is it purely a cognitive process? While an empirical question, our initial prediction is that a purely cognitive process may be sufficient, but contexts where motivation is relevant may heighten people's tendency to see silence as a mirror. While a large amount of past work has studied WOM in consumer situations, almost no studies have investigated how people interpret the absence of WOM silence.

In beginning to address this question, the current studies provide insight into how consumers interpret this common but understudied group dynamic in WOM settings. Or is it based on logic—an extrapolation or statistical inference that does not involve deeper speculation about what the person was thinking or his or her social motives?